Brand Protection: How a Premedia Team Can Guarantee Predictable, Consistent, Repeatable Results

Brands spend significant amounts of money on developing a brand strategy and package design using guidance from market research to ensure their product will excel during that first moment of truth.

As we’ve all heard—and Deloitte research confirms—84 percent of buyers purchase on impulse when presented with an average of 20 items for consideration, leaving just two or three seconds for a brand to capture a consumer’s attention.

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Who set those color targets? How are those colors going to be used on a piece of manufacturing equipment? Are they achievable? Do they align to what the consumer is expecting to see? Premedia specialists, like Leah Tabora-Hrbacek, senior technical services rep and customer in-load specialist (pictured here), answer these and other questions.
All photos courtesy of Shelby Watz, Cyber Graphics

Brands rely on the package as a mechanism to attract attention, strike an emotional response and deliver relevant, timely information that drives a purchase. While the design is paramount, how that design is executed in the supply chain, to create a physical package, can have great impact on how clear the messaging is received by the consumer. This is where flexo premedia specialists shine in the role they play—one of Brand Protector.

Flexo premedia teams work on behalf of the brand to ensure visions are properly translated from the screen to a printed piece. Color expectations are aligned and graphics are optimized to ensure consistent, predictable reproduction across flavors, styles, sizes, substrates and packaging types. The flexo premedia team also works on behalf of the printers tasked with mass producing the brand’s Picasso. Color is managed and graphics are re-engineered to produce consistent and repeatable print in a manufacturing environment.
Packaging graphics are a brand’s most valuable asset; brands need to be protected! So, how exactly does the flexo premedia team protect brands?

Color Communication

At some point, a brand marketer was presented a visual representation of the package. Was this a PDF or hard copy proof? Was it color managed and viewed in a controlled environment? Once expectations are set with a brand, resetting those late in the supply chain can be expensive and time consuming.

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Like John Davis, creative services director (pictured here), flexo premedia teams work on behalf of the brand to ensure visions are properly translated from the screen to a printed piece.

To protect the brand, the flexo premedia team has to play the role of communicator. Brand spot and process color are all used in combination to create the visual appearance of the design. Who set those color targets? How are those colors going to be used on a piece of manufacturing equipment? Are they achievable? Do they align to what the consumer is expecting to see?

Spot colors in designs are most often created using Pantone, referencing a set of digital L*a*b* values for a given color. But, reproducing that color on a variety of substrates, anilox rollers and packaging applications can be quite challenging—not to mention instances when screens are added to enhance the design.

With current technology, the flexo premedia team can capture spectral data of each of these spot colors as it is influenced by the variety of variables in the supply chain, and communicate it in CxF format. This enables the alignment to both set a color standard and determine realistic expectations when that standard cannot be met. CxF can be used to create swatch pallets that give designers more accurate visuals on screen and can also be embedded into a PDF to enable more accurate proofing of solids, screens and overprints.

The same CxF can also be extracted from the PDF and used in the inkroom to create the closest spectral match to the color standard, while also being imported into PQM software to ensure faster makeready and tight color reproduction. Brand color must be protected up and down the supply chain.

The impact of substrates and flexographic print on process color are well documented. Tools are available to generate custom color profiles to capture the impact of these variables, but doing so creates costs and drives inefficiency into the converting supply chain. Process color expectations are set with clean, offset-like color spaces without attention to highlight TVI and substrate influence, leading to disappointing conversations about color expectation re-alignment. However, new technology advancements have enabled color reproduction in flexo, much like standard web offset procedures (SWOP) and General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography (GRACoL), that are being used to set color expectations.

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Prepress software vendors have enabled digital micro surface treatments that allow for improved match to color standards, while permitting finer screens to improve visual smoothness and save ink at the same time. Pictured here, Senior Production Artist Kenny Prestage

As demonstrated at the past two FTA Forums, optimizing anilox, tape, plates and screening packages to fingerprint print systems, with the goal being to perform a near neutral print density calibration, using G7 methodology; print characterizations will create profiles that align to the latest ISO 15339 Characterized Reference Print Conditions (CRPC) profiles. Brands no longer have to be disappointed with missed color expectations while finding color can be controlled across all packaging applications and even print processes. Predictable, consistent color leaves brands protected.

Speed to Market

Brands can only earn a return on their investment of months’ worth of costs associated with brand strategy development, package converting and production distribution when the consumer chooses to buy their product. The flexo premedia team has to be prepared to take a digital file and efficiently convert it into a set of printing plates that deliver predictable and consistent results every impression.

Launch dates become real once final designs are approved, but Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, graphic optimization and missed expectations threaten to derail meeting targets and drive costs into the supply chain. The process starts by gathering information from both the brand and printer that is necessary to execute high-quality graphics through sound decision making—everything from packaging specs to nutrition labeling, inks, color profiles and plates.

This information is fed into a management information system (MIS) driving automation that is geared to reduce risk, eliminate human error and deliver faster speed to market. Information about inks can be embedded in extreme memory profile (XMP) tags that drive selection of dot shape, linescreen angle and separation type while brand order information and color separation information can be used to automatically generate legend information for communication, while even keeping nutrition information and romance copy up to date without rekeying information.
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File approval automation can be driven from brand-facing web portals to ensure the right people are reviewing work at the right time, assuring the most streamlined process to finished product, all while eliminating the dreaded email thread with multiple versions and redundant comments.

This leads to the kickoff of layout automation with stepping and mark placement, leaving the operator to focus on value-added decision making and quality control to ensure only the best set of plates is delivered to the press. Less cash is tied up in non-tangible assets and returns can be generated faster; brands protected!

Problem Solving

The more Adobe continues to develop tools in its Creative Suite of applications, the greater the likelihood the flexo premedia team experiences one or more moments of sheer panic. “The designer used that tool to get that result—That’s going to be a problem!” Pair this with, “The new upstart brand gave an employee’s nephew an opportunity to design because he has the tools on his computer and is a talented, self-taught designer that knows nothing about packaging,” and we have some real opportunity to protect the brand.

At the end of the day, the flexo premedia team is trying to micromanage the dots on the surface of the plate to achieve a desired outcome. So, when a designer introduces multiple levels of transparency that impact process and spot colors—which outnumber the physical stations on a press—it drives the need to use a variety of tools that help detect, isolate and re-engineer file construction. We must ensure separations break in a way that hard edges from dot dropping are managed, spots with screens are predictable and packaging graphics meet the requirements of brand and printer alike.

Standardization, like CxF and Spot Color Tone Value (SCTV), have enabled better industry-wide alignment of creating and managing screens of spot colors. They have also developed different screening technologies that eliminate moiré, fade to white and control tone value increases (TVI) far better than ever before.
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Plate vendors have provided options that process more consistently, demonstrate higher impression latitude and longer life, thereby enabling the creation of objects from CMY in gray balance and the proliferation of expanded gamut (EG) into the supply chain. Any of these tools help keep the original marketing vision of the brand protected, so the brand can focus on its core competencies—the product in its package.

The flexo premedia team lives in a small space of the supply chain that often gets squished when products come to market. The value its members bring in protecting the brand to ensure color expectations are properly set and executed, projects are delivered efficiently while setting printers up for success for predictable, consistent and repeatable packaging, is significant.

About the Author

headshot Kevin Bourquin
Kevin Bourquin is the director of prepress operations for Cyber Graphics, headquartered in Memphis, TN. As part of the senior management team, he is responsible for leading the strategic direction of prepress and color technology, quality, continuous improvement, as well as talent development across the firm’s Memphis, Cleveland, OH and Milwaukee, WI operations. He holds Bachelor of Science from Clemson University in graphic communications, as well as a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in finance and executive leadership from The University of Memphis. Bourquin is an active participant in industry events covering topics like expanded gamut, color, prepress and leadership. He was most recently selected as one of the “Top 40 under 40” professionals in Memphis.